Most Friday Forum chapel meetings adhere to a rather mundane routine. Announcements are made from various faculty and staff, and an occasional speech is given. But on February 17, the formerly disinteresting forum was electrified by the virtuosic and intelligent performance of Belmont Hill’s own demon fiddler, Austin Kwoun ‘18.
Kwoun achieved an impressive victory in New England Conservatory Preparatory School’s Concerto Competition in 2016, taking first prize in Category D, the bracket containing some of the finest musical talent produced at the Conservatory. His performance of the complete Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 99, by Dmitri Shostakovich, earned him the prestige associated with a victory in Category D, as well as an eventual performance with NEC’s premier orchestral ensemble, the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. In keeping with the tradition among classical musicians at Belmont Hill started by mythical cellist Spencer Kim ‘16 three years ago, in which the winner of a major music competition would play their instrument for the entire school community to hear.
Due to the inevitable time constraints associated with a 15-minute chapel, Kwoun decided to forgo the first three movements of the concerto, opting to play the melismatic and dazzling cadenza followed by the finale. Nevertheless, what his performance lacked in length, it was surely made up for in musicianship and artistry. Kwoun possessed fine control of his bow, gliding it across the strings to ring out melodious sonorities and sharply striking the strings to deliver incisive and acute twinges of discord. His diverse palette of tonal colors clearly communicated the image conveyed in his pre-performance remarks on the Soviet people’s oppression under communist dictator Joseph Stalin, as well as their jubilation and exultation following his death. Kwoun drew the audience in immediately, with his soaring line in the cadenza bringing Shostakovich’s creative mind to life for all present. Despite the audience’s relative unfamiliarity with the apparent dissonance of twentieth-century music such as Shostakovich’s, they were so invigorated that they broke long-standing musical traditions and clapped at the beginning of the fourth movement to show their appreciation for Kwoun’s unique talent. He flawlessly executed his interpretation of the subsequent finale, bringing the piece’s truly Russian dance-like spirit to the forefront of the listener’s ear. Pizzicato chords and endless runs of devilishly fast notes gave way to more adulatory applause in the midst of the finale. The ending leap of a fifth downward to the final A was a fitting finish to the grand performance; just as Spencer Kim ‘16 did three years ago, so too did Kwoun receive a standing ovation. This was another capstone moment in Kwoun’s decorated career as a violinist at Belmont Hill.
Kwoun’s performance brought excellent classical music to those who would not have heard it otherwise; it also showcased the surviving strength of Belmont Hill’s music program even after a large loss of graduating seniors. With a strong pool of musical talent still to draw from, Belmont Hill Music shall survive. And Austin Kwoun, Class of 2018, has shown himself to be prepared to lead it into a new age of prosperity.
(P.S. For more information about the storied history of Belmont Hill Music, read The Podium’s “History on the Hill” section in Volume II – Edition I, February 2017)